11 Popular Toy Fads Throughout The Years

by Millie Kay G. on 2011-12-0514

The toy industry is BIG business. Some years back, iPod toys were the rage. These cute, novelty “toys” went hand in hand with your iPod, ranging in price from $14.95 to $29.95 each. Today of course, something else is considered this year’s must have item.

If you think that something is pretty cool today, just wait — it won’t be long before they become yesterday’s news, especially when the next gadget comes along. But you can certainly imagine that there was a time when these iPod toys were in a lot of people’s wishlists:

Black iDog IPulse Bear White iDog
Pink iDog Flower Power iCat

Speaking of “toy fads” though, have you or your child ever fallen for one of the favorites? Some toys only last a few days around the house before they disappear, while others have the staying power to last generations. Let’s talk about some of the top toy fads and what it means for your pocket. A lot of these toys are so simple, yet have remained on retail shelves for a long time. Can you come up with a business idea that’s as memorable as these products?

1. Hula Hoop. Back in the 1950s, Wham-O successfully marketed the Hula Hoop with sales of 100 million units in just two years. The Hula Hoop was one of the original inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame and it’s still around today. A set of three classic Hula Hoops costs under $15 at retailers like Amazon.

2. Yo-yo. Versions of the yo-yo date back thousands of years, but the Duncan Yo-Yo was a marketing phenomenon of the 20th century. The fad began in 1928 and had resurgences thanks to TV advertising. A number of yo-yos are available for under $10, making them inexpensive gifts.

3. Rubik’s Cube. This puzzle was created by Erno Rubik of Hungary and it’s cited as one of the top-selling toys of our times. It was most popular in 1980, when it sold 4.5 million units. Personally, I’ve never been able to solve the thing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to share.

4. Cabbage Patch Kids. An art student came up with these dolls, which became one of the top toy fads of the 1980s. Thanks to adoption certificates and enormous demand, the dolls generated over $1 billion in sales in 1984. The brand is still active today.

5. Trivial Pursuit. Back in 1984, this board game sold more than 20 million units. Since then, various other editions have hit the shelves. It was originally developed by a Canadian duo and is now owned by toy giant Hasbro. For parents, board games can be a good deal because of their replay value.

6. Beanie Babies are a brand of stuffed animals made by Ty, Inc. They rose to prominence in 1995 and began to wane in popularity about four years later. I knew people who thought they were more exciting than CDs and savings accounts, but the value of their Beanie Babies collections never let any of them retire.

7. Tickle Me Elmo was the Sesame Street toy from Tyco that everyone wanted for the holiday season of 1996. When it began selling out in stores, shoppers allegedly went on red-furred rampages trying to acquire the giggling little guy. At retail, it was supposed to be just $28.99, but desperate shoppers drove up its price on the Internet. Tyco sold 1 million Elmos that year. Just remember that no toy fad is worth jail time because you punched out another shopper.

8. Video Games. The video game industry has the potential to bring in $74 billion this year. From the Atari console and the Game Boy handheld unit to today’s Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3, video games have captivated successive generations. Downloadable content, engaging peripherals like the Kinect and emerging new properties can assure parents that there’s always something more for them to buy ;-).

9. Pokemon. Sometimes I suspect Nintendo will stay in business forever because I will keep on buying Pokemon games. The Pokemon franchise was started by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996. Extending beyond a video game, the series or brand has grown to include anime movies and TV shows, manga, toys and a trading card game. The video games have sold 200 million units worldwide. In 1999, sales were as high as $1 billion.

10. Zhu Zhu Pets. These robotic hamsters were in demand for Christmas 2009 and sold around 10 million units that year. Since then, they’ve expanded into video games and other products. Although they were priced at a reasonable $9, they soon became hard to find in retail stores. Some parents reportedly paid upwards of $100 at auction sites for the adorable hamsters. I think the parental lesson here is to hit the store running as soon as you hear a toy is a top fad for the holiday season.

11. The Magic 8 Ball. This toy was one of my ultimate favorites when I was a kid many moons ago. It’s still going strong today! Its inventor was inspired by his mother’s use of a “spirit writing” device, which I suppose she used in her job as a fortuneteller. Many toys — many of which are electronic in nature — have been spawned that have the same premise, but in my opinion, they don’t quite have the magnetism of the original toy.

How many of these toys have cycled through your house? I have missed out on the Zhu Zhu Pets so far, but the lucky kiddos on my list might get one of the National Toy Hall of Fame inductees of 2008: the Stick. After the last thunderstorm, I have plenty to go around.

Now think about it from a different point of view: inventing such a toy is like winning the lottery. The toy, entertainment, movie and gaming industries are pretty similar in this regard: your product is hit or miss. If you’ve got a successful hit in your hands, you can make a ton of money. Otherwise, well, you’re back to the drawing board.

Created November 24, 2006. Updated December 5, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris Malena October 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I’ve got an ipod and I haven’t even taken it out of the box.

Lachlan December 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm

OMG! what is the obsession with weird looking animal toys? I just don’t get it – everything at the moment seems to be about Japanese manga style weirdness… It’s funny because if you visit Japan the opposite is true – everything Western is cool – blue jeans and cowboy hats.

Kosmo December 5, 2011 at 11:40 am

“Personally, I’ve never been able to solve the thing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to share.”

You can pop the pieces out and reassemble it.

Cabbage Patch Kids are the foster kids of the toy world. Their rights keep bouncing from one manufacturer to another.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Referring to the Rubik’s cube — in the age of the Internet, I doubt there is anything that cannot be solved. There are “HOW TOs” on everything now, especially with solving once long-held mysteries surrounding popular puzzles or whatever else. Sigh. I guess the age of information is out there to give us all the cut-and-dried answers in a platter.

Kosmo December 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Nonetheless, a surprising number of people don’t use the internet to find answers, or do a poor job of creating a query.

I often have people at work come up to me wanting to know the answer to a specific question.

Generally, the first answer I give them is 42.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Good one! I suppose that if you can use the Internet well, you can give the impression that you’re a repository of amazing facts. Is being resourceful more important or just as important as being knowledgeable? Being able to sniff out information anywhere … now that’s a good skill to have! And it can sure save you money or help you make more. 🙂

Womens Dance Shoes @ Womens-Dance-Shoes.com December 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

When you say “Many Moons Ago” talking about these toys, is just yesterday to me. When I was a kid there was no electronics and very few toys that were electric, the Train Set being one. My Grandmother always bought my brother and me “Blow Football” at Christmas, we were sick to death of it, but played it while she was there rather than be rude about it. I always ended up with a splitting headache from all the blowing. There’s something to be said for playing it on the TV.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Interesting! I looked up “Blow Football” here and it looks like it is quite popular in the U.K. But I have never heard of it! I have seen “Blow Ping Pong” done before though. Hmmm… you got this gift every Xmas time? Seems like one time would be enough.

Maggie@SquarePennies December 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I’ve had all of these in my life — either I had them, my kids had them, or my grandkids had them. Some fads have come around several times, like troll dolls. I wish I had the money back that my son spent on Pokemon cards!!!

Silicon Valley Blogger December 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

So when does a toy fad turn into a lasting brand? One of my favorite toys as a child was the Barbie doll and the set of dolls that accompanied Barbie. I can’t possibly refer to this toy as a fad — it’s more of an institution, IMO. It’s one that will never die out!

Kosmo December 6, 2011 at 11:59 am

“Is being resourceful more important or just as important as being knowledgeable?”

Yes. I’d say that having the ability to understand the information combined with being resourceful enough to find it is more important than just having the raw data in your head.

I do try to coach people a bit with their Google queries. A lot of people try to cram every possible word into the query.

Stefan Lombard December 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm

You’ve mentioned brands. As you pointed out, some of those “fads” are successful brands and have lasted the test of time. So maybe they aren’t fads at all. Where are Monopoly or Snakes & Ladders on the list of most popular board games?

Kosmo December 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm

“Where are Monopoly or Snakes & Ladders on the list of most popular board games?”

Monopoly’s marketing department deserves a ton of credit for extending their brand to the point where there’s an “opoly” game for every imaginable college, pro league, etc.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

@Kosmo and everyone,
I am still going to have to pull for “Settlers of Catan”, a game where I can confidently smoke anyone. 😉 It’s a strategy board game and I am a complete sucker for strategy games.

On another note — for a fun look at what the average American wants for Christmas, check out this cool infographic by VisualEconomics. It’s actually all about toys! Some interesting items here:

1. I bought the “Set” game for my kids. It looks pretty unique! Exercise your spatial sense with this thing.
2. My kids got the Beyblade game last year. Interesting concept.
3. Popular gifts for men: Amazon Kindle, Blu-ray Disc Player, Logitech Harmony Universal Remote, Bose Headphones
4. Popular gifts for women: jewelry (not for me!), Kindle, iPod Nano, flannel pajamas
5. Worst Christmas gifts ever (according to the infographic): scented candles, useless gadgets, socks, frame with a photo of gift-giver, fruit cake, themed gifts, homemade coupons, self-help books, obsolete software and gadgets

Hmmmm… as for #5 above, I would NOT mind candles, novelty gadgets, socks (I give this to my hubby on occasions!), pictures in frames (of the family), fruit cake and even self-help books! I wouldn’t mind ANY of these at all except for the obsolete gadgets. I am not fond of jewelry and flannel jammies from Victoria Secret. I’m just too practical for this stuff I guess! 😉

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